Northern Ireland beat Republic in golf challenge

Rory McIlroy had a brighter day in brutal weather today as he led Northern Ireland to victory in a star-studded challenge match against the Republic of Ireland.

Less than a week after the wind and rain at St Andrews scuppered his chances in the Open Championship, the young golf sensation joined forces with countryman Darren Clarke to defeat southern duo Padraig Harrington and Shane Lowry in sodden conditions in Co Fermanagh.

Thousands of golf fans huddled under umbrellas along the fairways of the Lough Erne Resort to see the northern pair clinch a hard-fought six-under-par to five-under-par victory in the stroke play better ball contest.

Three-time Major winner Harrington took on Co Down man McIlroy in a singles match last year in the inaugural Lough Erne challenge on the Nick Faldo-designed course.

That duel proved so popular that the organisers decided to invite newly appointed Ryder Cup vice captain Clarke and reigning Irish Open champion Lowry to enter the fray this time around.

Among the soaked crowds following the talent-laden fourball were former Northern Ireland goalkeeper Pat Jennings and actor Jimmy Nesbitt.

McIlroy, who owns a house in the grounds of the five-star resort on the banks of Lough Erne, insisted the conditions had not ruined the day.

“Obviously the weather wasn’t what we would have wanted but still, even in that weather, the course was spectacular,” he said as he picked up the trophy.

The young tyro also had a friendly go at his playing partner when asked whether he would like to re-form the combination if Clarke qualifies for October’s Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor as a player.

“He wouldn’t be a bad partner but he’d need to hole a few more putts than he did today,” he joked.

Clarke, who had a freshly poured pint of Guinness waiting for him as he walked off the 18th, was not about to disagree.

“It’s a fair point,” said the Dungannon man, reflecting on an indifferent day on the greens.

“It was nice to watch my partner make so many birdies while I had a nice stroll round the golf course.”

Harrington said the northern pair’s fast start had done for his and his partner’s chances.

“It was an exciting game and that’s what we wanted,” he said.

“We wanted something that ran very close. It’s nice when you have a relaxed format like this and we enjoyed it.”

Shane Lowry, who heads off to defend his Irish Open title next week brimful of confidence after a strong showing at St Andrews, said the weather had not put a dampener on his first trip to Lough Erne.

“It was great to be invited here today to play with the three lads,” he said. “It is a great place to come and I’ll certainly be coming here more often.”

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